Five Keys To Beating Wisconsin On Saturday
With the exception of Ohio State, Wisconsin (9-2, 6-1) is the best football team that the Nittany Lions (6-5, 3-4) will face this season. It doesn’t help matters that the game will take place in Madison at Camp Randall Stadium, where the Badgers have only lost two games over the last three seasons. The team’s only two defeats this year came in close losses to Arizona State and Ohio State — both ranked teams.
With the final football game of the season approaching, let’s take a look at the five keys to beating Wisconsin:
1. Score points.
Without a doubt, someone always comments on these type of posts with the original “Score more points! LOL!” It’s obvious of course, but it should prove more difficult against the Badgers than any other team on Penn State’s schedule, aside from Ohio State. Wisconsin has the fifth best defense in the nation, allowing just 13.4 points per game. For context, Ohio State, Indiana, and Minnesota put up 31, 3, and 7 points against Wisconsin. Those same three teams scored 63, 44, and 24 points against the Nittany Lions.
Wisconsin’s defense excels on all levels, allowing only 99.5 rushing yards and 179 passing yards per game. Their pass-rush is the most potent, and three Wisconsin players have four or more sacks this season. This is no easy task, but Bill O’Brien needs to come into Saturday’s game with his best offensive game plan of the season if Penn State will have a chance. As we have seen all season long, the Nittany Lions defense can only do so much with limited talent, so the burden falls on the offense.
2. Slow down Wisconsin’s two-headed monster.
We refer to Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton as a two-headed monster at the running back position from time to time, but the duo that the Badgers field every weekend probably deserves the title even more. Sophomore Melvin Gordon and senior James White each have over 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season. They have hit the century mark in the same game five times this season.
Wisconsin averages an insane 297.8 rushing yards per game and 6.8 yards per rush. On the other side of the Badgers’ daunting offensive line will be a Nittany Lions front seven that has been inconsistent all season long, looking strong one week but getting tossed around the next. I’m not asking for the defense to hold Wisconsin to three yards per carry and 100 total rushing yards, but if Gordon and White can combine for 300 as they have on more than a few occasions this season, Saturday’s game will be a blowout.
3. Keep the emotions in check.
On Saturday, 17 Penn State players will be taking the field in blue and white for the last time. While the last home game of the season has passed and they won’t be playing in front of a Beaver Stadium crowd, it will still be emotional for John Urschel, Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, Glenn Carson, and the rest of the players not returning next season to play their last game as Nittany Lions. While this key applies to just about any week, this is Penn State’s “bowl game” for the season, so it’s more important than usual to keep those emotions in check or channel them positively.
4. Pressure the quarterback.
Penn State’s pass rush has looked better and better as the season has worn on. Sacks have come from unexpected places, like cornerback Adrian Amos, who has been utilized as a pass-rusher more often in the last few games. In fact, Penn State and Wisconsin each have 25 sacks on the year. Those probably won’t come often against a strong Wisconsin offensive line that has only allowed 12 sacks all year, but the pressure might, and with sophomore quarterback Joel Stave at the helm, that could lead to a turnover or two.
5a. Bring out all the stops.
Saturday’s game is meaningless for Penn State football in the grand scheme of things. There is no bowl game to prepare for, so why not lay it all on the table and break out any and every play that didn’t get worked in yet this season? Perhaps there’s a fake punt that O’Brien hasn’t had a chance to use yet. Maybe there’s a flea flicker that he’s been dying to call. Perhaps there’s a wildcat-esque formation with Bill Belton, a former high school quarterback, taking the snap and running an option play. Either way, O’Brien emphasized that his team will be laying it all on the line this weekend with nothing else to play for until next fall.
5b. Don’t miss extra points.